Obstacles for Foreign Hikers

Of course I am not speaking for all the foreigners that have hiked or are planning to hike in the US, but I do think that for quite some of us there are common difficulties.

Apologies if I go into too much detail, but I know I personally wanted more information on some subjects, which was hard to find. So for the next person looking for more info:

 

Getting a Visa

I was most nervous for this one. Since I can not enter on a 3 month ESTA visa, I needed to get a so called B2 Visa, which means I can enter the USA for 6 months a year, for 10 years long. A little crazy no, valid for 10 years? But it was the only option, so I went for it. Scoured the Internet for information on the process and on what to expect and bring. Did not find much information on other Europeans applying for this Visa with the intention to hike, just a whole lot of stories of people trying and a few times failing to get a Visa for traveling or visiting family.

So how does it work: you need to fill out an Online DS-160 form, whereby you need to fill out a lot of details, your plan for traveling (like where you are staying: ehm the whole East Coast? Just filled in a hostels name near Springer Mountain), if you are aligned with any terrorist groups (really? who is going to say yes?), when and for how long you visited the US before (had to do some major digging in my old email inbox). Then you make an appointment for an interview at the US Embassy in Amsterdam, whereby the first availability was in 3 weeks.

In those 3 weeks I collected all things I could find that proved my connection with the Netherlands and how much I want to stay here, and not in the US. Brought my bank statements (with official stamps), payslips, job contract, letter of intention that they will hire me back, rental contract, the AT guidebook, an AT schedule of hiking (general one I took from some website), passport and passport picture.

Arrived with my big folder full of all the files and saw already a big group of people standing outside, all with similar amounts of paperwork. Slowly they started letting in some people, after asking people for their name and time of appointment. It was quite funny to see them try and understand all the very foreign names and find them on their list. Inside they check your appointment paper, ask you to leave behind all your belongings, except for your phone and paperwork and finally you go through a security scan. I thought the general mood in the embassy would be one of cool professionalism, but I was delighted to see it was more of a helpful cheery professionalism!

In the next room two ladies checked your paperwork and asked what you were applying for and why. The man at the window then took my passport and asked me to wait for my name to be called. I could already hear the discussions from other people with the interviewers, I think one girl visited Iran a couple of times and was thoroughly questioned why and why alone and why go again. I was called: a serious man had my passport, asked why I was applying. I said I wanted to do a long distance trail, from Georgia to Maine. The Appalachian Trail? That is correct. You are going alone? Yes. Okay, your Visa is hereby approved, but I would recommend one thing. Okay? Not walk alone!

And that was it!

 

The US not using the metric system

Do you know how annoying it is to read stories about the Appalachian Trail, check gear lists and try and read a guidebook while having to look up every sort of measurement so you can actually understand what they are talking about? Temperature, weight, distance and dimensions, all of it is different from our almost universally used metric system, which means that I need to do mental calculations every time someone mentions a measurement of some kind. I have no doubt that in time I probably will get used to it, but in the meantime I think I will put all the conversions in my phone to make sure 🙂

 

Logistics

Since I am not living in the US, it is a lot harder to organise everything. Dropboxes are going to be way too expensive and complicated to do, so I need to depend completely on what provisions I can get on the trail in towns and such. I cannot send back cold weather clothes when it gets hotter, or vice versa. So I do not need to do a lot of planning (food boxes), but I do need to be completely sure of what kind of gear is going to last me all three seasons without getting in the way. Also if I am in any kind of trouble (injury or otherwise) there are no relatives or friends nearby to help. This means I need to double check my health/travel insurance and be ready to depend on myself in all kinds of situations.

 

Gear availability

It might be me, but since researching gear for the Appalachian, I get the idea that the US is a lot more innovative in terms of gear than Europe. For sure, we have a lot of gear available, but most of them are bigger companies that are not really putting an emphasis on lighter, newer gear. When I go to the best known outdoor store in the Netherlands called Bever, most of the employees do not know about quilts, trailrunners, tarptents and lightweight backpacks. When I discuss it with them, most of them still recommend the heavier duty stuff we know so well here. And since most of the brands recommended in gear reviews on the blogs and forums are American, it is really hard to get it or even find an alternative.

Since I had a gift card for the outdoor store, I did pick out a backpack from them, but I did first make a list of all the lightweight, recommended backpacks by brands that were sold here. All the other gear I collected through diverse channels (tent: online marketplace, quilt: tiny company in France, waterfilter: online prepper store, shoes: went to the only trailrunner dedicated store in Holland that sold the Altra’s I wanted). Online seems to be the place to be, but I still will have to wait to buy some gear once I arrive (gaiters, AWOL guide book, darn tough socks) in the US.

 

The Unknown

I think I know the US, but in reality I do not. Sure, I have visited the southwest (twice) and Alaska as a tourist, I watch a lot (a lot!) of American movies and series, listen to the podcast This American Life, but I know I still will need to learn and get used to a lot once I arrive. Having studied Cultural Anthropology, I’d like to think that I have an open mind and that I am fairly able to adjust to another culture, but the reality is that it is going to be trial and error. 

Things I am worried about: the tipping culture, lack of public transport, necessity of hitchhiking, recognizing poison ivy. 
Things I am looking forward to: food!!, large portions of everything, friendly people. 

But there is always going to be the unknown and I just need to deal with that on my trip!

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Comments 14

  • Naptime : Sep 27th

    I had all of those problems when I planned my Hike in 2015, except with the Visa which is harder to get in South America.
    I carried my down jacket all the way from Maine to Georgia and used as a pillow.
    Don’t worry about drops, you can just mail stuff to hostels from Amazon and I didn’t had any problems with resupplies (except in Catawba which only had 1 gas station to resupply and the prices where jacked up), unless you have some dietary requirements you should be fine!
    Good post, sending you my best wishes on your hike!

    Reply
    • Esther Burghouwt : Oct 1st

      So nice to hear from another foreigner who has gone through the same things! Great to know I do not have to worry about resupplies and good tip about Amazon, will keep that in mind. Planning to keep all my cold weather gear, already figured out it will work perfectly as a pillow 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  • Dhana Broser : Sep 27th

    Hello, Esther! I live in the middle of the U.S., and although not very close to the Appalachian Trail I am willing to help you with some of the logistics of your hike. For example, I could mail food drops to you, receive and then resend cold weather clothing, etc., to you, and offer any assistance I can provide in the event that you sustain an injury. This is in repayment for many kindnesses I received in the Netherlands (& elsewhere outside the U.S.) and also for similar help my son has received on his travels.

    Reply
    • Esther Burghouwt : Oct 1st

      Hi Dhana, thank you so much for your generous offer! I sincerely think I will be fine with resupplying on the trail and that I will optimise my gear so it can carry through all three seasons, but I will keep you in mind if I do need any help. So nice to hear that you have had such a good experience with Holland!

      Reply
  • Elaine : Sep 29th

    Hello Esther! My then 20 year old daughter through hiked the AT in 2015. She started alone but was never alone for the rest of her journey. We live near the trail in western Massachusetts . We would be happy to help you in any way.

    Reply
    • Esther Burghouwt : Oct 1st

      Hi Elaine! It is a good reminder that there are loads of other people on the trail, that can be of help to each other too. So kind of you to offer help as well, I will keep you in mind if I pass Massachusetts!

      Reply
  • Diana Ehmer : Sep 29th

    Hej Esther,
    I´m currently planing AT hike as well and find a interesting resupply online shop. maybe you wanna check it out 🙂
    https://zerodayresupply.com/

    I´m from Germany and i had the same issues with my planing so far. good luck ,maybe we will meet next Year 😉

    Reply
    • Shane : Sep 29th

      Hello Esther

      My girlfriend (who is Belgian) I hiked the AT in 2015. We are currently living in Brussels and would be willing to help you in any way.

      Reply
      • Esther Burghouwt : Oct 1st

        Hi Shane! So kind of you to offer help, I do think that at the moment I have solved most problems I had. But if you guys have any tips, those are always welcome!

        Reply
    • Esther Burghouwt : Oct 1st

      Hi Diana, so nice to hear from a fellow European that is planning to hike the AT next year too! I checked the website, looks like a great option, thanks for the tip.
      Would be great to see you on the trail, let me know when you will start!

      Reply
  • Leslie Hurst (Kitty 2013 and 2015) : Nov 27th

    Hi Esther, my husband and I are from South Africa. We have done 2 very long section hikes covering most of the trail in 2013 and 2015. We are planning a 2018 thru hike (yep, can’t keep away from the trail). We resupplied along the trail with no real backup. I would advise resupply boxes for Neel Gap andFontana Dam to cover those places with poor resupply options. After that it’s pretty easy. Hope we meet – we start on April 4.

    Reply
  • Darrell : Mar 1st

    You will get a lot of support from fellow hikers and locals in the trail towns you pass through. My wife and I are hikers and “Trail Angels.” We are here to help you and other hikers. We hope to see you when you come through Hiawassee, Ga about 100k up the trail or meet you on the trail while we are hiking ourselves. Good luck and God Speed! Darrell (Encourager)

    Reply
  • Malin : Jun 8th

    How does it work with internet Connection for foreigners? What kind of abonnemant did you but or did you use your regular one from your homecountry? Im guessing it must be cheeper to buy one, once you’re there?

    Reply
    • Esther Burghouwt : Jun 20th

      Well there are two options: either you use your simlock free phone you have now and get a sim only monthly membership including a certain amount of gb at either AT&T or T-Mobile (I recommend AT&T). Or you buy a second phone here in the US and use that for internet. I chose for the first option and am pretty happy with my AT&T 30 dollars a month membership.

      Reply

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